Why Traditional Cooking Utensils Must Be Preserved in Preparing African Cuisine.
Growing up in a Ga home taught me some valuable cooking lessons: how to pound fufu on my own, how to use an iron cauldron to prepare banku, how to prepare all the various kinds of Ghanaian soups, how to create balls of Kenkey and make Fisherman’s soup. Most of these dishes were prepared using traditional methods and utensils over hot coals which gave each dish a unique taste which no other cooking method can compete against.
It was kind of forbidden at home to prepare banku in a saucepan on an electric or gas stove, it had to be on a coalpot. To prepare the dish, a cast iron cauldron which in Ga is called Dadesen, was filled with liquid corn & cassava dough (Banku mix) and a wooden ladle better known in Ga as Gigintso [pronounced with a strong G like that in Gink) is used to stir the mix till its thick and ready to serve. It was like a test of strength which if I could pass then I could handle any utensil that came my way. Thankfully I did pass. During the Homowo festival too was a time we used and actually still use the Dadesen, a clay sieve pot and Shaanii (a wooden sieve) for the preparation of Kpokpoi and Palm-nut soup.
Preparing food in this cauldron over hot coals brings a unique flavor and taste to foods such as Banku, rice, jollof, beans, etc. which most people attribute to the combination of charcoal and metal during the cooking process. You can always tell the difference between food prepared on a gas stove or on coals.
I visited Togo during last Christmas only to find out that the Dadesen wasn’t peculiar to Ghanaian cooking culture! *facepalm* And to add to my curiosity, it was not on the usual coal pot I was used to seeing in every Ghanaian household. Adokpo, is a half-metal, half-clay furnace used to prepare all kinds of meals in most Togolese homes.
The metal part is a bucket with a cut-out section made for the fanning of the fire and clay mounds moulded on top of the bucket opening to house the hot coals then the metal cauldron is placed on top of all that work. It was such an eye-opening experience as I got the chance to try preparing Akple whilst standing! But thankfully Akple cooks faster than regular Banku so within minutes I was done.
I enjoyed that with Ademe which was prepared using the same cooking methods. I was converted the minute i tasted the sauce which had the same texture as Okro sauce.
But i prefer Ademe and i was confidentially told I could buy the best Ademe leaves at Tuesday Market ( so if you know that market, this is for you). For a first timer, this was a great experience of having Ademe and Akple!
I will work on the Ademe recipe soon. :)
Technology has of course brought modern cooking technologies such as the Blender. Before the blender there was the grinding stone and asanka. My focus here is on the grinding stone as the asanka is still existent in most homes. If you have never tried using this stone to grind pepper or ginger then you haven’t lived! My Grandma had a stone grinder and for us grandkids in the house, using the stone grinder was priority over a blender. Oh the days of grinding pepper! This grinder was a pain! Moving the arms with your body hunched over the stone for about 20-30mins was always something to not look forward to.
And one required a skill of keeping the pepper within the area of the stone and not spilling on the sides. The taste of freshly ground pepper is very different from when a blender is used. I believe somehow the stone grinder brings its own flavor into the hot spice something which a blender cannot do. Imagine my delight when I saw an elevated stone grinder in Togo and couldn’t help but take photos of the almost extinct grinding tool. During the grinding process there’s a rhythmic and rolling sound of stone against stone as the vegetables are crushed and mashed. Bliss.
African dishes will always come out tasting better and different when prepared in traditional cooking utensils and tools. Perhaps its an acquired and familiarized taste which we have grown up with and choose what is familiar but I shudder to think of what the next generation will be calling familiar and tasty. The market is flooded with rice cookers from China, blenders from China and saucepans from errr... China? The method of preparing these meals should be handed down to our children in its traditional form as a form of learning experience so as not to lose touch with our way of cooking culture. It was interesting to see two clay pots being used to warm soup at the buffet table at the African Regent Hotel during a lunch meeting I had yesterday. Not just the utensils but also the fresh herbs such as chicken leaves which in Ga is called Wuobaa (Wuo means chicken and baa is leaves) must be encouraged in preparing our local meals instead of consorting to processed spices.
If you have ever used any of the above mentioned utensils, do share your experience or other utensils in your hometown or country which renders every meal an mmmm…. experience!